We have been wanting to share with you Ayurvedic insights into breast health and we thought what better month to do this than October? As you may know, each October, countries across the globe celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month. Since 1985 this important campaign continues to spread the word about breast cancer prevention, testing and treatment as well as honor the lives lost by this rampant disease. Breast cancer is so pervasive in fact that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is “by far the most common cancer in women worldwide”, with 1.38 million reported cases globally and 458,000 deaths each year (IARC Globocan, 2008) caused by this disease. Unfortunately, rather than worldwide breast cancer rates decreasing, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation reports that the rates have increased by 20 percent since the year 2008. WHO cites longer life expectancy, urbanization and countries adopting western diet and lifestyle practices to all contribute to this rise in breast cancer rates. From an Ayurvedic perspective, we could not agree more that environmental degradation in the form of urbanization and the nutrient poor diet and sedentary lifestyle touted by the modern western culture can be a perfect breeding ground for imbalances to go deeper and deeper into our bodies, eventually manifesting themselves as a disease, such as breast cancer.
Despite these facts, we are not all doom and gloom because we’ve got Ayurveda, India’s 5,000-year-old medical system, on our side to help shine the light on practical steps we can all take in order to keep our breast tissue healthy throughout our lives. In contrast to western allopathic medicine, Ayurveda truly emphasizes preventative care and shares with us some simple tips and practices that we can easily incorporate into our day in order to give our breasts some extra TLC because, Lord knows, we all could use a lil’ more of that! Please note, that these practices apply to everybody- not just women- because breast cancer does also threaten men. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the United States is found in a man. So, grab those near and dear to you and share this Ayurvedic guide to breast health!
FUNDAMENTAL BREAST ANATOMY
Breasts have a complex structure but mainly they are composed of lymph, fatty adipose tissue and for women, also glandular tissue for producing milk. Lymph is a bodily fluid contained within the lymphatic system and the lymph is what contains infection fighting white blood cells. The lymphatic system’s job is essentially to rid the body of toxins and wastes. From the Ayurvedic perspective, since lymph is a bodily fluid, lymph is a part of the rasa dhatu. According to Ayurveda, all the fluids in the body like lymph, plasma, blood and breast milk are contained within the rasa dhatu whereas fatty tissue in the body is referred to as medas dhatu. When you put all of these anatomical parts together, we can conclude that breast health is largely determined by the health of our bodily tissues, particularly the rasa and medas dhatus and also the ease in which the lymph can flow without obstruction. From a holistic perspective, breast health is also tied in with the health and joy in our hearts. When we experience stress, pain, loss or judge ourselves critically, the health of the breasts become compromised or the quality of the breast tissue may change. These differences may be subtle yet they are a telling sign of the overall health and balance of our doshas.
DAILY RITUALS FOR BREAST HEALTH
It is of utmost importance to stress that the lymphatic system DOES NOT move itself! We need to physically move the lymph in our bodies in order to ensure that the lymphatic system does not become clogged and stagnant. A stagnant lymphatic system can lead to a build up of toxins, stress, a weakened immune system and eventually can lead you down the path of disease.
Daily Breast Massage
Ayurveda recommends performing a self-abhyanga or self-massage daily with pure, organic, herbal infused, plant-based oils, like our PAAVANI Body Oil, to nourish and purify the lymph, ground vata dosha in the nervous system and keep the skin feeling smooth, hydrated and healthy. Contained within the self-abhyanga technique is an Ayurvedic breast massage that will help with lymphatic drainage and detoxification as well as assist you in cultivating love, respect and admiration for your beautiful body, heart and soul.
Here is how to perform an Ayurvedic breast massage, step by step:
- Fill a small crockpot with water and set on low. Place your favorite PAAVANI Body Oil bottle directly into the crockpot. You want to make sure the oil comes to a pleasant, warm temperature. To test the oil, place a small amount in the palm of your hand. Once the oil has come to your desired temperature, take it out of the crockpot. Tip: if you do not own a crockpot, simply heat the oil by running the bottle under hot water.
- Pump the oil into the palm of your hands and slowly rub the palms together.
- Place the palms face down onto the heart, with the left palm on top of the right. Close the eyes and take 3 slow and steady breaths in and out, bringing awareness to your heart center.
- Keeping right palm on your heart, start to make a windshield wiper action, sweeping from the heart, to the collarbone, to the shoulder, to the bicep and back to the heart. Repeat this sweeping motion 3-6 times using light, swift pressure.
5. Bring the fingertips of both hands to the center of your chest to begin to massage the intercostal muscles. Starting at the center of your chest, slowly glide your fingertips towards your nipples. Right before you touch the nipples, bring the fingertips back to the center of your chest but position the fingers a little bit more downward in order to massage the lower part of the breasts, slowly gliding the fingertips outward, towards the nipples. Repeat this again, but position the fingers a little bit more upward in order to massage the higher region of the breasts, slowly gliding the fingertips outward, just above the nipples. Repeat 3-6 times.
6. Return the right fingertips back to the heart center and begin to make small clockwise circles, moving just below the collarbone to massage the lymph there and continue into the underarm, massaging the lymph nodes in a gentle clockwise motion. Continue this circular motion, moving down towards the bottom of the breasts and back to the heart. Repeat two more times.
7. With the right palm resting on the heart, make three large sweeping, circular, clockwise strokes around the entire left breast.
8. Cup the left breast with both hands and sweep the hands off of the breast, creating a gentle pulling motion. Then, with the hands cupping just around the nipple, sweep the hands away from the nipple to ground the breast into the chest.
9. Repeat these actions, 1-8, on the opposite side, using the left hand rather than the right for steps 4, 6 and 7.
10. Return the palms face down onto the heart. Close the eyes and take 3 slow and steady breaths in and out, bringing your awareness to your heart center. Breathe in love, gratitude and respect for the beauty and wonder of your breasts expanding this outward to your entire being.
Garshana (Ayurvedic Dry Brushing)
Dry brushing is traditionally known as garshana in Ayurveda and it is performed BEFORE you apply oil onto the body for self-abhyanga. Garshana gloves, made from raw silk, are used to detoxify the lymph and improve circulation throughout the body.
One of the most efficient ways to detoxify and get the lymphatic system moving is through exercise! Power walking, jumping jacks, jogging, aerobics, spin, dance class, pilates, yoga, jump rope, kickboxing, surfing, skateboarding, rowing, aerial silks...there are so many different ways we can break a sweat and incorporate exercise into the day. We think the trick to maintaining a regular exercise routine is finding the activity that resonates with you, because when you do, you will genuinely enjoy and even crave the sacred act of moving your body. We of course are partial to yoga, Ayurveda’s sister science, because it is a whole-body, holistic experience and it can be practiced throughout one’s lifetime. One of the best ways to break a sweat and challenge yourself on your yoga mat is through a Kapha Balancing Yoga Practice.
As discussed above, the rasa dhatu contains the fluids within the body. When the rasa is depleted, we can experience dehydration, constipation, headaches, skin impurities, immune deficiency, fatigue, lack of enthusiasm and eventually, depleted rasa dhatu can lead us to various, life-threatening diseases. In order to keep the rasa dhatu healthy, we must stay hydrated! This sounds easy doesn’t it? But, as you may not know, many of us are living our lives chronically dehydrated. According to a study done by New York Hospital and Cornell Medical Center, 75% of people to be exact. Therefore, it is important to mindfully consume enough water throughout the day. In general, you should be drinking half of your body weight in ounces each day in order to keep the rasa dhatu functioning optimally.
Drinking water is of course essential to keeping the rasa dhatu detoxified and healthy but there are herbs called demulcents that also provide hydration, moisture and soothe irritated mucous membranes. Some popular demulcent herbs include flax seeds, marshmallow, slippery elm, shatavari, licorice and Irish moss. If you are looking to add demulcent herbs into your day, we suggest trying our rasa dhatu building Hydrate Blend Tea.
Call Upon Your Herbal Allies
You can also incorporate herbs like ashwagandha and turmeric into your daily routine because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Also, consider the traditional Ayurvedic formulation, Triphala, to boost the immune system as well as nourish and cleanse the digestive system.
Commit to Earth-Based Skin Care & Body Products
According to Harper’s Bazaar, the European Union has banned more than 1,000 chemicals for use in personal care products while the United States has only banned 11. This fact is obviously very concerning to the health of our bodies as well as the planet. We can not help but stress the importance of eliminating synthetic ingredients, chemicals, parabens and phthalates from your personal care products. Our advice is to choose only 100% earth-based, organic products to put on your skin in order to ensure the utmost respect for YOUR body and our planet.
There are so many amazing small businesses revitalizing herbal wisdom and bringing new life into the apothecary space. We are proudly one of those brands. We make our products by hand, in small batches with organic herbs and plant-based ingredients to support the health of your skin, body and mind. Another brand we LOVE and highly recommend is Fat and the Moon. These witchy ladies have the best all-natural deodorant that will keep your pits happy and will not harm the health of your breast tissue or lymph since there are zero antiperspirants and chemicals found in their herbalist formulated Deodorant Cream.
Avoid Underwire Bras
For all of the women reading this article, although there is not western scientific evidence to support the claim that underwire bras can lead to breast cancer, we are not going to wait around for that scientific study to prove that underwire bras can block the drainage of lymph, causing stagnation and toxic build up in the breast tissue. Instead, we would like to encourage you to take a proactive approach to your breast health and consider saying farewell to underwire bras.
Eat Fresh Whole Food- Mostly Plants
Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and also having a healthy jatharagni is the antithesis of the western modern diet and lifestyle. We know we are preaching to the choir here but we just had to mention this extremely important aspect of preventative care for your breasts!
Reduce Plastic Usage
For your health and the sustainability of the planet, say goodbye to single-use plastics and plastic usage altogether. Invest in glass tupperware, bamboo cutlery you can use on the go, reusable stainless steel straws, reusable shopping bags, products packaged in glass and reusable water bottles and mugs!
Affirmations for Breast Health
Call upon these positive affirmations during your daily breast massage or anytime throughout your day to cultivate love & support for your being:
- “I am important. I count. I now care for and nourish myself with love and with joy. I allow others the freedom to be who they are. We are all safe and free.” - from Louis Hay’s book, “You Can Heal Your Life”.
- “I have time to do things I love.”
- “I deserve and receive massive amounts of love every day”.
- “I am allowed to take up space”.
All Breasts Are Beautiful
No matter what age you are, if you have undergone a mastectomy or are experiencing changes in your breast health, we would like to remind you that your breasts are beautiful! Throughout history, breasts have provided support, nourishment and comfort to humans and animals alike and we think it is about time that all breast shapes and sizes are celebrated rather than objectified and/or criticized. Breast health is not only determined by the physical body, but also how well we are able to digest emotional and physical trauma throughout our lives. We hope that the Ayurvedic rituals outlined above help you to have a holistic approach to your breast health.
Wishing you and your loved ones a reflective and healing Breast Cancer Awareness Month.